What to make of the partying? Five-star target Dre Kirkpatrick partied with a current Longhorn player while taking his official visit, going to a Kappa party ($) with Sergio Kindle on Friday before Kindle hosted another party on Saturday. Certainly, gaining an appreciation of the party scene around campus will factor into the decision for recruits and Kirkpatrick cited watching Kindle and others dance as his favorite part of the trip, evidence of the camaraderie having fun and partying creates, but how much of a liability is it to have recruits attending parties unmonitored?
Jamarkus McFarland, despite the later admissions of embellishments to his infamous paper, caught the attention of the national media because of sensational claims about partying Texas fans and raising comparisons in the media to the Colorado fiasco under Gary Barnett. Barely a month removed from the McFarland maelstrom, how advisable is it to have more recruits out and about partying, this time in Austin, this time with current players perhaps breaking the law by providing them with alcohol?
While I recognize that players taking recruits to parties is a common element of recruiting practices and one that will no doubt continue with the express support of most Texas fans desirous of securing major commitments, having current players taking recruits out has the potential of ending badly and further besmirching Texas' national reputation. The Texas program looked bad when connected with the supposed wild Dallas party and no one affiliated with the football program even had anything to do with McFarland being there. Not to mention that Sergio Kindle, Kirkpatrick's host, already has a DWI, and hopefully did not get behind the wheel of a car after partying that evening.
How does the coaching staff feel about player hosts taking recruits out to parties and likely drinking under age? I can't imagine they condone it. If they don't condone it, they certainly must know what's going on. Ken Rucker may monitor players living on campus, but what about players living off campus, like Kindle? This may end up sounding curmudgeonly, but after the Buck Burnette situation, Augie Garrido's DWI, Lamarr Houston's DWI, and the horrible summer of 2007, the last thing the school needs is another high-profile incident. The proliferation of subscription recruiting services and social networking only increase exposure and risk. Ken Rucker was hired to keep the current players out of trouble, but only keeping track of the current players may not be enough.
Is there any question James goes pro? Rick Barnes off-handedly mentioned the other day the potential distraction of upcoming speculation about James turning pro and skipping his senior season. Consider me the frontrunner on that speculation, then, and then consider the talent showing up on the 40 Acres at the wing position in Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams, and full scholarship numbers with the addition of Jai Lucas. At the end of it all, the certainty of James leaving after the season seems like the no-brainer it has been ever since the 2009 recruits signed back in the fall.
But Barnes' comment raises an interesting question. Is Damion James ready for the NBA? DraftExpress lists James as the 22nd pick in their mock draft, while ESPN pegs him as a low-first, high-second round pick, far from the talk about about becoming a lottery pick after his junior season that seemed to circulate then. Make no mistake, it could become a tough decision. As well documented in the article by Jason King earlier in the year, the pressure to help his family will push James towards the NBA, as will the crowded forward position next year.
On the other hand, another year in college and a greater comfort level on the perimeter could vault him well into the lottery, potentially meaning millions more dollars over the course of his contract. In fact, the difference in the 2008-09 rookie pay scale between the 22nd pick and the 12th pick (probably a reasonable guess of where he could go if he stayed) in the first year is roughly $500,000 and around $700k for each of the remaining three years (assuming the team picks up the third and fourth year options). The final tally puts the total at close to $3 million, if the rookie contract goes its course. That's a ton of money, even for someone who stands to make a bucket-full over the course of his career.
Rick Barnes' decision to manufacture match ups against power forwards for James speaks to the great room for improvement in his ability to take guards off the dribble, which he will have to do with consistency at the next level. There is time for James to improve this season, but right now he falls into the category of almost too good for college, but not good enough to crack the rotation on most NBA teams next season. Playing against better athletes certainly helps development, but some players benefit much more from the amount of actual game experience they get in college that can't be matched by practice time in the NBA and then riding the pine for a season or two.
That being said, it's still almost a certainty that James leaves for the NBA after the season. My recommendation: Enjoy performances like the game against A&M, and there will be some more of them this year, because there isn't much time left for James in a Texas uniform.
Todd Wright speaks. There might not be any more interesting member of the Texas basketball coaching staff than Todd Wright, but there isn't a lot of information out there on the guy, which is a shame. Most known for reshaping the bodies of Kevin Durant (who gained close to 30 pounds at Texas), DJ Augustin, Justin Mason, and particularly Dexter Pittman (I believe you've heard of this?), Wright's reputation as one of the best in the country is well-recognized and well-deserved. More than being just one of the best S&C guys in the country, Wright has worked with Rick Barnes for 15 years -- ever since Barnes worked at Clemson -- and the Texas head coach says that Wright is the "most valuable member of the staff," and speaks of Wright's involvement "in every aspect of the program," the type of involvement that led DJ Augustin to call Wright a "father figure." In addition to his weight training duties, Wright helps the players with nutrition and academics, while also aiding the coaching staff in recruiting.
Unlike some schools that don't have an S&C coached devoted exclusively to basketball, Wright is able to form his training programs for players after being around them full-time and seeing them in practice and in meetings, which allows him to notice and work to amend specifics issues like a lack of lateral quickness or explosive leaping. Wright trains the Longhorns according a "body as an integrated unit" approach, focusing on improving the three main drivers of the body (gravity - upright, ground reaction, and momentum using exercises based on fundamental movements (locomotion, squat - base, lunge, leap, jump, hop, pivot, shuffle, and crossover).
With his unique approach to training, what does Wright look for in an athlete ($)?
I think a guy that can use the leverage of his body as an advantage or as a weapon, can get into people's bodies and be able to create leverage advantages using his feet through the ground. I think that's a great athlete and a great example is D.J. Augustin. You know, a guy that doesn't jump off the chart, but if you ever notice how low he gets and how his feet load. His feet are very unique in that he can get his body into great leverage positions because of the mobility of his feet. That sounds a little weird, but in our sport it's getting the step to get the advantage. Another great example is Steve Nash. He's not explosive, but he uses his body so well to get an advantage. Clint Chapman, when he came in and we did his movement screening, his feet jumped out immediately. The ability to rotate the lower bones in his leg give him the chance to create the leverage advantages and to this point, he has shown us that. I think his body is designed to do that. Once again, not great at accelerating his body, but uses it in small areas to allow him to become a great basketball player.
Wright also has some thoughts about the current Texas team ($), as well as transfer Jai Lucas, now practicing with the team:
Obviously, he comes from a family that has an incredible basketball mind. Watching him, he's been a great addition to our program chemistry wise. The players love him and you can see how smart of a player he is.
He's small, but we've had some great success with small guys here. He came in from a program that I respect tremendously in how they develop their kids on the court and in the weight room, so his body is actually in a really good place. We have started to train him three extra days a week compared to the other guys with lifting him a little more. We'll begin to spend more time with Jai to figure out how we can really help his game. It's going to take some time watching him move to figure out how we can help him performance wise on the basketball court.
Good news that Lucas is already in good physical condition and Wright is certainly correct about the Longhorns finding success with smaller players -- just think about TJ Ford and AJ Abrams, not to mention Augustin, who is 5-10. Heck, the only problem with Lucas is that he may have a letter too many in his first name. The other good news that Lucas worked with a Todd Wright disciple ($) at Florida, meaning he did many of the same exercises that he will do at Texas.
In talking about eligible players, Varez Ward, according to Wright, is the most physically gifted freshman he's had in his 15 years, while saying that basketball players come into college more physically beat up than they used to, forcing him to hone his skills treating tendinitis and lower back problems. While Wright doesn't mention the reason for it, long AAU seasons and participation in numerous summer camps by the top prospects no doubt compound any normal injuries incurred by playing high school ball.
Perhaps the best aspect of Todd Wright's affiliation with the Texas program is that he isn't likely to leave. Unlike assistant coaches lured by the ultimate prize of becoming a head coach, Wright is already at the pinnacle of his profession. Not only that, he has the support of Rick Barnes, the ability to work with some of the best athletes in his sport, and works in world-class facilities. The Texas program will reap the benefits of Todd Wright as the S&C coach for basketball indefinitely. And that's definitely an excellent thing.
2010 targets: Running backs. Lache Seastrunk. Lache Seastrunk, Lache Seastrunk. Enough? Okay, I'll stop. No, wait, before I go on, glory in his talent:
Lache Seastrunk - #15 (Class of 2010 Prospect) RB-ATH (via JewelSports)
The recruiting at the running back position and overall success of the class will hinge on whether uber-recruit and Temple product Seastrunk commits to Texas. If Texas doesn't get Seastrunk, the rest of the process almost doesn't matter. Obviously, Seastrunk has incredible speed and the type of lateral movement and one-cut quickness that makes him a perfect fit for a zone-blocking scheme. A second gear and visible acceleration makes Seastrunk virtually uncatchable once he reaches top speed, but he does need 4-5 steps to reach it, which is probably just quibbling. He's about as can't-miss as a running back can get short of being Adrian Peterson.
With no running backs expected to transfer (at the moment), it's a pretty crowded position and the Longhorns may only take one back in this class, perhaps two, but almost certainly not three. Since Seastrunk is an outside threat, the Longhorns will probably look at a tougher runner if they opt for a second running back, a player like Denison's DJ Jones or Cayuga's Traylon Shead. Jones is a 6-1, 220-pound workhorse with 4.5 speed, while Shead checks in at an inch taller and 15 pounds lighter, while displaying the same straight-line speed, but a little more suddenness than Jones. The biggest difference in the two, however, is level of competition, as Shead plays at a 1A school and Jones competes in the greater Metroplex area against top competition.
As a runner ($), Jones has decent, but not great feet, with adequate speed for the position, though his production is hard to argue with -- 2,640 yards during his junior season, with 33 touchdowns, good for an average of 11.1 yards per carry. He seems to run hard, showing a capability of breaking ankle tackles, but runs with good pad level inconsistently, which will be crucial in college considering his lack of an elite skill set. In a game against McKinney last season, Jones rushed for 432 yards and scored eight touchdowns, three coming on runs of 70 yards or more. Impressive, indeed. Also factoring into the decision of the Longhorn coaching staff is the fact that Jones said he would "more than likely ($)" commit to Texas if offered, words spoken less than two weeks ago.
Shead, who rushed for more than 3,500 yards with 51 touchdowns as a junior, runs with better pad level, giving him more ability to run over defenders, while showing better feet than Jones, manifesting in sharper cuts, rather than the rounded-off cuts often made by the Denison star. Looking at their film back-to-back, Shead looks like a better prospect, even with the caveat of facing poorer competition. Refined running like proper pad level will translate to the college game and isn't dependent on competition, like having giant holes to run through. Ultimately, it may come down to which running back the Texas coaches think they can get early in the process, and that appears to be Jones.
Traylon Shead Highlight (via sharpproductionsbo)
if Seastrunk ends up at LSU or another competing school, the Longhrons may well turn their attention to Westwood's Princeton Collins, a 5-11, 175-pound kid with 4.4 speed. I watched Collins against Vista Ridge (a horrible team) last fall and didn't come away particularly impressed. Despite his speed, with a claimed time by Collins in the 4.3s, the junior didn't display it on the field, likely because his offensive line was flat-out horrible and Vista Ridge generally kept eight in the box.
The far more distressing part, though, besides Collins not showing his speed when trying to take the corner, was that he also didn't finish runs well, failing to show proper pad level and desire for extra yardage, often trying to juke defender instead of picking up as much yardage as possible. He has a reputation as a good receiver and often lined up as one, but didn't show a variety of routes in the game I saw, only running flares into the flat. His versatility would work well in the Texas offense, but he didn't show much desire to take on blitzes, either (kinda like Deon Beasley trying to tackle someone), which would become a serious detriment at Texas given the insistence of the coaching staff on that attribute.
All things considered, the coaches might opt for one of Shead or Jones (or possibly Dontae Williams) and then call the class complete at the running back position while waiting for Seastrunk. Supporting that view is the fact that Seastrunk already says he will likely announce at the Army game, by which time Collins might have committed to another school more in need of his services.
From the Land of Miscellany. Cobi Hamilton is probably going to announce next week, but isn't planning on giving any interviews ($) until then. His visit to Austin over the weekend comes after narrowing his choices to Arkansas and Texas...Just a reminder: Devon Kennard will announce his decision ($) between USC, Cal, and Texas at 8:45 CT today at his high school, but decided not to let ESPN televise it. Says a lot about Kennard not having a big ego, I think. Don't hold your breath, though...Jarvis Jones sounds like he really liked Texas ($) without having anything substantial to say, but is probably still a Florida lean..With all current members of the football team enrolled for spring semester, it looks like any transfers will come after spring practice.